In 2007, encouraged by the National Church, St. Paul’s vestry voted to join the ONE Campaign in support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), first articulated by the UN. The overall purpose of the goals is to sharply reduce the worldwide incidence of extreme poverty by 2015. Several of the goals focused on improving education, opportunities for women and girls, and health. The vestry designated .7% of the church’s annual budget (the level recommended by the ONE Campaign) to be used for the church’s MDG-related efforts. Since 2007, St. Paul’s has set aside $14,000 for its MDG efforts and charged the Global Missions Committee with identifying projects and providing leadership to carry them out.
The Global Missions Committee, chaired by Suzanne Johnson, first established critieria to guide their selection of projects. The committee was drawn to focus on children (inspired by St. Paul’s involvement with the Micah Initiative) and sub-Saharan Africa, hoping that our efforts would be part of healing within the Anglican Community. Early in the committee’s existence, they learned from Buck Blanchard, the new Director of Missions and Outreach for the Diocese of Virginia, about The Carpenter’s Kids initiative in the Anglican Diocese of Central Tanzania (DCT).
Buck, recently returned from Tanzania, had promised to find support for two villages. He and long term friends had linked with one village; St. Paul’s became the second Virginia link, and the first Virginia church to link through The Carpenter’s Kids.
The Global Missions Committee was especially attracted to CK because it was the vision of a progressive Tanzanian bishop, Mdimi Mhogolo, and the leadership of the program was Tanzanian. Westerners played a supportive role, following the lead of Tanzanians who knew the needs and strengths of their people best. There was specific help with financial management from Western friends which also helped the committee have confidence in the program. In summer 2007, the committee and then the vestry made the initial commitment to sponsor 50 children for five years in the village of Mwitikira.
“Our involvement in Mwitikira has followed guidelines used in other St. Paul’s ministries such as Micah. When we went to Mwitikira, we listened and responded to what the villagers said they needed. We provided a listening presence and volunteer involvement. There was accommodation to change and the all-important relationship to people. Our goal is not to flit in and then disappear.”—Roger Whitfield, St. Paul’s parishioner.
Bishop Mdimi believed the biggest challenge facing his diocese of over 550,000 Anglicans in about 200 parishes was the large number of orphaned children due to the then-rampant HIV/AIDS epidemic. He believed if each parish could be linked with a group in the West (a church, school, family, group of friends) to gain basic support for the 50 most vulnerable school-age children to enable those children to go to school, it would be transformative for his diocese. He found a strong partner in the Diocese of New York and the Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam, then Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of New York. Buck’s visit, just as the initiative was getting started, led to Virginia’s involvement as well.
Suzanne and Roger visited Mwitikira for three days in October 2007, as part of a pilgrimage to Tanzania led by Buck. During that visit, Suzanne felt a strong calling to return the next summer for an extended time to teach English in Mwitikira. After studying Swahili during the year, Suzanne returned to Tanzania for seven weeks during the summer of 2008, living and teaching in Mwitikira. She did not realize how pioneering this was: she later learned she was the first white person ever to spend the night in a village in DCT, much less live in the village for many weeks. That visit opened the way for many others from St. Paul’s, as well as friends from other churches, to go to live, work, and live in relationship with the people of Mwitikira. In response to Suzanne’s emails sent back to the church, St. Paul’s members increased their support for CK, sponsoring 136 children. That number continues today.
Also inspired by that first visit, Roger committed to leading work on improving the water system in Mwitikira. Roger has directed a number of rounds of improvements to the water system, often required long stays in the country and dealing with suppliers and workers in Dar es Salaam, Dodoma, and Mwitikira. He has served as a consultant on water projects in other villages in DCT as well. For more details on Roger's work on the water system, visit this page.
Because of Suzanne’s experience in Mwitikira, the Diocese of Virginia appointed her to be the volunteer Coordinator for the Carpenter’s Kids program for the Diocese; her responsibilities have included recruiting other churches and groups to link with other parishes and facilitating those groups who want to travel to Tanzania to see The Carpenter’s Kids first hand.